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6 Tips For Hiring a Chief People Officer in 2020

December 5, 2019

Hiring 2020 Chief People Officer

Chief People Officer (CPO) is a relatively new role that has become a hot topic in the HR field over the past few years. One of the main differences between this job and a more traditional HR leader is its priority of people as a crucial part of an organization as opposed to a focus on HR processes. Of course, people still need to get paid and have policies to refer to, so a CPO not only oversees these necessary processes but also ensures that the organization’s culture is aligned with its mission and that people who work there are happy. If you’re considering hiring a CPO in 2020, what should you be looking for? And how do you go about hiring one?

What to Look for?

The CPO role is one of the most complex positions in the executive suite. What you’re looking for exactly will vary, of course, depending on many factors, such as your organization’s age, size, industry, and location. However, there are some over-arching competencies that are crucial for a CPO to have:

  • Business Acumen – The CPO will need to have solid business skills in order to align the "people function" with the business needs of your organization.

  • HR Background – Although there are many successful CPOs who have experience in areas other than HR, it should go without saying that some HR background is necessary in order to be a solid candidate.

  • Stress Tolerance – This is not an easy job. There will be long hours, a lot of push and pull, and an emotional toll. Finding someone who has a high threshold for stress and good coping mechanisms to deal with it will be key.

  • Decision Making Skills – It will be important to find someone who has the courage and ability to make quick, data-informed decisions.

How to Hire

Once you’ve determined the key competencies that are important for this role in your company, the next step is figuring out the hiring process. Although you will likely be leaning on internal and/or external recruiters to bring quality candidates forward, you need to have a comprehensive hiring process and plan in place.

  1. Create a Compelling Job Description – Think carefully about the requirements of the job and address them honestly. Make sure to differentiate between true requirements and nice-to-haves. Depending on the size of your organization and your projected growth, you may not need someone with 15+ years of experience. Also, use the job description to sell the great aspects of working in your organization. Make it exciting! Involve your marketing department to spruce up the wording and any branding used.

  2. Craft a Basic Application that Fits the Role – As with all jobs, there are basic requirements of the CPO role that should be addressed in the first part of the application. Refer back to the job description and make sure the basic qualifications and motivational fit items are covered in the application. For example, if heavy travel is part of the job, ask a question around the candidate’s willingness and ability to travel. And then don’t forget to address it during the in-person interviews as well.

  3. Choose an Appropriate Assessment Battery – You know what you’re looking for in this role, and it’s important to be able to assess candidates objectively before bringing them onsite for the interview process. There are many assessments on the market that evaluate personality traits as well as skills. At the executive level, candidates will expect to go through a rigorous hiring process, but you also don’t want to contribute to assessment fatigue. The sweet spot is three to five carefully chosen assessments – and don’t forget to use multiple measurement methods. Even if you’re using a top Emotional Intelligence assessment, for example, you should make sure that Emotional Intelligence is also captured in at least one of the other assessments you’re using.

  4. Consider Using an Assessor Interview – Before you bring the candidate in to meet and interview with people inside of your organization, it’s helpful to first have an interview conducted by an outside assessor. The most effective assessor interviews take place after the candidate has taken their assessments, because the assessor can tailor their questions based on the results. The assessor may also then be able to tie together the interview and assessment results into a comprehensive report.

  5. Construct a Comprehensive Interview Plan Once you have results from the candidates’ assessments and assessor interview, you will, of course, want to bring them in for in-person interviews. Make sure that you:

    1. Use structured, behavioral interviewing consistently

    2. Train interviewers on how to properly conduct interviews

    3. Involve the right people

    4. Build in time for office/facility tours

    5. Feed and hydrate your candidates

  6. Check References – Reference checks have somewhat of a bad reputation because they can be ineffective. Any smart candidate will only provide references who they know will give glowing recommendations, so why should you still consider speaking with references? Because they will give you insight into past work behavior. How you conduct these checks is key. Have questions prepared in advance that will address any areas of concern that have come up during the hiring process. Did the candidate consistently do poorly in one to two areas during the process? Probe into the references’ experience working with the candidate and ask for specific examples. 

Hiring a CPO is not easy. It is an incredibly demanding and complicated role, and it is also such a crucial hire to get right. Carefully thinking through and creating the process can go a long way in attracting the right candidates, identifying the top contenders, and eventually choosing the person who will be most successful and impactful. And don’t forget to prioritize the candidate experience too!

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Rose Keith Rose Keith is a former Consultant with PSI. Rose managed selection process implementation projects and worked with clients to ensure that these processes were working well. She also managed, developed, and delivered training programs, both externally and within PSI.